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‹ Flicks with The Film Snob

La Chimera

June 24, 2024
Flicks with The Film Snob
Flicks with The Film Snob
La Chimera

A tale of a tomb robber in Italy depicts the struggle between the quest for riches and the need for love.

In Greek mythology, a chimera was an imaginary monster combining the features of a lion, a goat, and a snake. But later, for some reason, it became a metaphor for foolish or delusional ideas and objectives. La Chimera, the new film by Italian director Alice Rochrwacher, tells of a young man who compulsively pursues the risky and impractical goal of quickly becoming rich through the theft of antiquities, a chimera that keeps slipping through his fingers.

The film takes its time letting us figure out its background story. We first see Arthur, played by the excellent Josh O’Connor, in a memory, or maybe it’s a dream, about a young woman he clearly adores. As we discover, he’s an English archaeologist just now let out of an Italian prison, returning to his ramshackle hut on a mountainside. He’s welcomed by a disreputable group of friends whom at first he rejects, but eventually falls back in with. They’re a rowdy gang of thieves who rob ancient Etruscan tombs of their valuable artifacts and then sell them on the black market. They need Arthur as their leader because he has a strange psychic talent that helps him discover these underground tombs, actually using a dowsing rod to find the general locations, and then going into a sort of trance in which he can pinpoint the spot where they need to start digging.

The marvelous Isabella Rossellini is on hand as an eccentric matriarch named Flora, who welcomes Arthur joyfully into her home where she lives with three adult daughters, because before prison he was the boyfriend of her favorite daughter Beniamina, the woman we’ve seen in the brief dreamlike opening of the film. Beniamina has gone away somewhere, but the old lady is expecting her to return any day.

Rochrwacher’s style is leisurely and richly seductive, with exquisite cinematography by Hélène Louvart. The boisterous gang of troublemakers surrounding Arthur is counterbalanced by Flora’s young servant and singing pupil Italia, played by Carol Duarte. Italia is a woman of great humor in the face of her challenges, who has two kids that she’s managed to conceal from Flora, and who presents Arthur with a beguiling mix of skepticism and affection. Arthur may be falling for her, even while his heart still dreams of the absent Beniamina. Yet nothing can tear him away from his obsession for finding ancient treasure.

In this rustic Italian landscape, in a time which seems to be before cellphones, perhaps the 1980s, we sense the presence of history underneath the old land and within the mind of this hapless dreamer. Josh O’Conner plays Arthur as if in a constant wandering reverie, lost in thought and bittersweet recollection. It’s hard to pin the character down, but the audience will find themselves rooting for him to succeed in his restless search. The gang does find a major treasure, a statue discovered in an ornate tomb, but their elaborate scheme is threatened by an unexpected rival, making wealth once more seem just out of reach.

The pull between the desire for riches and the need for love is the film’s central source of tension. The end of the movie provides a poignant and heart rending resolution. La Chimera is a haunting vision of beauty and loss.

Etruscan,   Italy,   robbers,   spirituality,   tombs,  


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